FOMO: How the Fear of Missing Out Has You Missing Out

Fear of Missing Out has become the new red alert.  The kids call if FOMO but it is by no means just a Millennial thing.  This can’t be blamed on the youth. FOMO is  when we become fearful that we are not exactly where we are supposed to be or not exactly the the right people.  Something is missing….the unknown that we fear is so much better than what we have.

FOMO is triggered by the part of the brain called “the reptilian brain” which is in the limbic system; the region of the brain that is responsible for emotions.  The amigdala activates the fight/flight stress response in the body.  The body begins to read the fear of missing out on something as if the house is on fire and it is about to burn down to the ground.  The fight/flight response in the body sounds something like this….



Yes, this is exactly what FOMO is like and when you constantly check your phone your body gets this signal…


And forget it, the body is off and running.  It’s getting jittery, sweating, mind racing waiting, waiting, for the damn notification to ding. Now in the chronic stress response because the damn notification won’t just ding.

People who already suffer from a heightened nervous system due to anxiety are more prone to FOMO.  In a world that is moving incredibly fast, everyone is always on their last nerve and feeling like answers to things that really aren’t urgent are needed within seconds or minutes of request.

But the part of FOMO that I want to discuss is related it’s impact on our relationships.  This issue was raised in a meeting with a client recently and it touched me because it feels like something that is eroding the possibility of finding deep and lasting relationships of all kinds.

Here’s the deal..people these days are used to feeling like they are expendable.  Lay offs occur more often now than ever before.  In certain industries people have gone through them several times in a short period of time. Many people are working in toxic work environments where the message they get is “play the game or leave.”

Dating apps and websites remind single people that they are just one in a million.  All the information a user of a dting app knows about you is your picture and poss MAYBE a little bit about you which may or may not be accurate.  That person just needs to swip left for no, right for yes. While the game is fairly mindless, it comes with a boatload of emotionally triggered baggage.

Two weeks ago there was a convergence between my session with my client, a weekend Buddhist meditation retreat that I went on and hearing this song by Sam Smith that occurred and it all became crystal clear.

What is the problem????


We have come to think of the other as nameless and faceless.  We are so scared that somehow there is something/someone better out there that we fail to care about the others’ feelings.

This stems from the quick fix, hedonistic nature of our culture.  Studies have shown that notifications on mobile devices trigger the pleasure center of the brain releasing the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of elation.  The idea that there could be something better is that same high that a drug addict feels when they call their dealer to buy drugs.  Just the knowledge that the drug is on the way is enough to trigger the release of dopamine.  The constant newness of relationships makes us feel excited, high, we are on that wild roller coaster of lust.

So that’s it….that is why it’s so exciting to continue to see what else is out there and why it’s so hard to stay in any type of relationships that presents conflict.  The beginning of any relationship is when it is fun.  The challenge comes when we stay.

Sending emails and writing texts are commonly the way that people communicate, even when having difficult conversations. The other option often taken is ghosting, which is the process of “blowing off” people with whom you have decided you no longer want to speak to.  The person being ghosted is left with nothing but silence to speak to them.  OUCH…

People of all ages use technology as a way to hide and passive aggressively speak to each other.  Ghosting does not just happen among Millenials, it occurs throughout generations these days.  It also occurs both professionally and personally.

Etiquette has gone out the window.

Maybe it’s the fall out of people feeling used and abused.  Hurt people, hurt people.  But treating others in the way that you would like to not be treated gets you nowhere.  It is common, even in a professional circumstance, to walk away from relationships and discussions without a word.  It’s bizarre to me on the one hand and on the other, I get it….no one in our society wants to be uncomfortable.

People have become so adept at saying goodbye, that they lack the skills needed to stay. The constant walking away means that you don’t get to strengthen the muscles needed to manage conflict when it arises.  People leave jobs much more frequently now.  It is one of the things that Millennials have been judged for doing.  If there is a conflict or they are not getting what they want, the younger generation tends to pull the trigger more quickly and frequently to leave rather than stay.  The same is happening in relationships of all kinds both with younger as well as older generations.


Well for one we all need to take a collective deep breath and


While dopamine makes you feel great in the moment, if the body continuously gets flooded with it, it shuts down the capacity for the body to naturally produce dopamine.  This means basically that the more addicted you become to having to have everything be in technicolor, the less satisfying everyday life becomes.  Also the more adept you become at saying goodbye, the less adept you  become at creating meaningful connections.  Over time, this means that you become more alone because no one is left that meets your high level of expectations.

Not fun, right?

So let’s accept that life is challenging.  Relationships are messy at times.  The muscle of resilience gets strengthened when we take a deep breath and stay present even for the stuff that feels really hard.  As we teach  ourselves how to tolerate discomfort, we find life that everyday life is less uncomfortable.

Learning how to manage conflict in relationships is a key life skill because conflict is a part of  life.  As we learn how deal with the icky stuff in life, life overall feels less stressful.  We also will find that we have a richer and fuller network of people around us.

There is no quick fix to what ails us.  But our breath…it is the quickest, longest lasting fix that I know of.  So go ahead





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One Response

  1. […] our discussion FOMO: How the Fear of Missing Out has You Missing Out we chatted about the concept of what the kids call “FOMO” which is the fear of missing out. […]

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